Double Dragon: Neon Review
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On 09/25/2012 at 01:24 PM by Julian Titus
You spin me right 'round baby, right 'round...
If you're old enough to appreciate all the little '80s touches and nostalgia and have a buddy to play with, this is a fun new take on a classic.
If you’ve read my reviews for Guardian Heroes and Golden Axe, it’s pretty clear that I’m a big fan of the classic arcade-style beat ‘em up. Many critics will say that this genre is an irrelevant dinosaur and has no place in modern gaming, but I disagree. While the old “quarter muncher” design philosophy no longer works today I truly believe that the side-scrolling brawler can still be a viable genre with the right updates to the formula. WayForward comes frustratingly close to bringing this genre into the modern age, but doesn’t quite get the job done with Double Dragon: Neon.
It becomes very apparent after pressing start that Double Dragon: Neon isn’t simply a catchy name, but an affirmation that the game as a whole is an ode to the ‘80s. Not since Grand Theft Auto Vice City has a game written such a love letter to that decadent decade. From the bitchin’ Trans Am in Lees’ garage to the neon bandanas and leg warmers worn by street thugs in need of a serious beatdown, this “reimagining” of the first Double Dragon is the poster child for style over substance.
WayForward has packed Neon with so much flash and detail that it almost feels like too much at times, but that’s likely by design. Anyone who worried that the shift to polygons from hand drawn sprites would impact the game’s visuals can rest easy—this is a gorgeous production. Characters are large, expressive, and animate with the fluidity that WayForward is known for, bringing thoughts of Street Fighter IV to mind. Backgrounds are awash in vibrant colors, and that neon really shines brightly through the multiple layers of parallax scrolling.
Complementing this assault on the visual senses is a stellar soundtrack, which is a combination of excellent remixes of the arcade tunes and “neo ‘80s” tracks. Fighting to the end is worth it to experience the most amazing end credits song of this generation.
Unfortunately, the problems of Double Dragon: Neon become apparent almost immediately. Enemies simply take too many hits to go down, with even the first peons getting back up too many times. The Lee brothers move slowly and their attack range feels limiting, resulting in protracted fights with large groups of enemies. Certain thugs—especially ones with weapons—have attack animations that can’t be interrupted, leading to many cheap hits. Unfortunately the Lees don’t seem to be as hearty as the common street thugs they take on; it’s not uncommon to see their hit points drop from 100% to nothing in a matter of hits. Adding to the frustration are bosses that overstay their welcome. The final battle in particular is one of the most grueling boss encounters I’ve ever dealt with, thanks to overpowered attacks and a health meter that seems to go on forever.
WayForward also made a miscalculation when it comes to the level designs by recreating one of the most annoying aspects of the earlier games—obstacles and platforming. The levels are littered with booby traps, explosives, and pitfalls that need to be avoided at all costs, considering how much damage they can do. This only ramps up as the 10 levels unfold, and one boss battle throws so much stuff at the Lees that the game seemed more bullet hell shooter than brawler.
That’s not to say that Double Dragon: Neon doesn’t bring some new and interesting things to the table—far from it. The Lee brothers have a nice selection of moves at their disposal, and though it may not reach the levels that Super Double Dragon (SNES) achieved, what’s available is more than enough to get the job done. In addition to the normal punches and kicks you have dash attacks and crouch attacks, with the crouching knee being the key to some sweet juggle combos. You can also enter into “Gleam Time” with a well-executed dodge, giving you double damage for a short time. Sadly, the tried and true grapple attacks from the older games aren’t present—you can toss stunned enemies over your shoulder, but you won’t be pulling them in for a satisfying set of knee strikes to the face.
The moves set is further augmented by collecting tapes—yes, cassette tapes. These special mix tapes come in two flavors: Sosetsitsu magic attacks and Stances. These allow you to tailor your Lee brother to your liking. There are ten versions of each kind of mix tape, but once I got the signature spin kick from Double Dragon 2 I didn’t see any reason to select any of the other attacks. The stances on the other hand are an entirely different story; they can drastically alter your hit points, magic points, defense, and other attributes. Considering the game is ridiculously challenging in sections the proper utilization of these tapes is a must. Collecting multiple copies of a tape increases its potency, and the game is structured in such a way that “farming” tapes and cash by replaying levels is almost mandatory.
Of course, everything is better with a friend, and Double Dragon: Neon really wants you to enjoy its co-op—sorry, bro-op—mode. Too bad it’s local co-op only, with no online play available at all. It’s a real shame, as the game has a selection of “high fives” between bros that creates different effects depending on how the high five is initiated. A second player would have been a godsend during the later levels, which can get punishing at times. I really can’t believe that a game like Double Dragon is without an online multiplayer mode in this day and age, and this really limits the replayability of this title. Even the now unavailable HD remix of Double Dragon that came out in 2007 for XBLA offered online play, so this is inexcusable.
WayForward has crafted a beautiful, stylish take on a classic that adds some fun new elements to the beat ‘em up formula thanks to the RPG-like upgrade system. But the lack of online co-op, slow, drawn-out animations, and a steep difficulty keep it from being truly great. It also has some bizarre and downright stupid elements to it, such as your arch “nemesis” Skullmageddon, a low-rent Skeletor and his plethora of bone puns being the worst offenders. Even so, if you enjoy brawlers this is worth a purchase, especially if you wear your sunglasses at night and really love A Flock of Seagulls.